TEMPE – A football locker room mimics a fraternity. The facility is a safe haven for players, a space that is usually closed to the general public. In this environment, life issues are discussed and bonds between brothers are established.
Ben Coleman and Tre Brown, now Arizona State teammates, were part of their own unique fraternity long before entering the Sun Devils’ inner sanctum. Both attended Linfield Christian School, a private preparatory school located in Temecula, Calif., where Coleman was a two-way player on the offensive and defensive lines, and a consensus three-star prep prospect, while Brown was rated the No. 20 outside linebacker in California by 247sports.com and a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and ESPN.com.
Yet it is the connection between their close-knit families that forever links the two players.
“I’ll tell you this. The relationship feels like a brotherhood, but I mean, even from his parents and my parents it never felt uncomfortable,” Coleman said. “We were essentially forced into a friendship.
“And, you know, I think it was more important because it didn’t even feel like it was forced ever. Our parents met each other, it felt like from the first time we hung out when we shot hoops that we had known each other for years.”
Coleman and Brown have known each other since the fifth grade, and their relationship is rooted in football.
“It’s fair to say football is the only reason why we’re friends,” Coleman said.
Brown agreed, saying, “Football brought us together.”
During Brown’s freshman year of high school, he had a family situation arise, and the Colemans accepted him into their household without hesitation.
“That’s something that you don’t hear,” Brown said of the unique living arrangements. “If you asked us if we were brothers or not, I mean, it feels like blood.”
A dream materialized last December when Coleman and Brown both entered the transfer portal after graduating with their degrees in three and a half years. Coleman came to Tempe from the University of California, Berkeley, while Brown transferred from Washington State University.
ASU offered enticing player-coach relationships the duo had already built from their undergraduate days at Berkeley and in Pullman, Washington. Several of their mentors are now assistant or positional coaches at ASU.
Defensive coordinator Brian Ward and linebackers coach A.J. Cooper were previously on WSU’s staff, while ASU offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin as well as assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle both had stints with Berkeley.
“Being around each other for our last collegiate year – that was the dream, we’re living it now,” Brown said. “Finishing what we had started, getting our degrees at our previous schools, being able to reignite that brotherhood on the football field again.”
Coleman is also continuing a family legacy as he’s the eighth member of his family to attend ASU. It’s something he found amusing to think about now, but it’s all about relationships, and the Tempe location offered an extra benefit of being in the sun.
The Arizona connection is strong. Coleman’s father Ben is a former offensive lineman who was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft, with the then-Phoenix Cardinals taking him No. 32 overall. He played in 135 NFL games with 104 starts over nine NFL seasons with four organizations in his decade-long career.
“I think football is the only reason that my dad was able to meet my mom,” the younger Coleman said. ”He’s an East Coast person. He’s been on the West Coast for so many years because he got drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and my mom attended Arizona State. The only reason he was out here (Arizona) is because of football.”
Academics and professional experience are vitally important for Coleman and Brown as they navigate their final years as college athletes.
Coleman has always wanted to be recognized for being more than just a football player. He might have been an athlete at academically rigorous Berkeley, but he still had engineering classes, and was up at 5 a.m. in full pads for football practice.
Coleman failed his first African American Studies test, and he was embarrassed but it taught him to be resilient.
Brown, who earned his degree in criminal justice from WSU, has spent time studying under Tempe K-9 units Canine Bloomer on ride-alongs and getting some first-hand experience in law enforcement.
He has been actively involved in the community since he moved to Tempe in January.
“What hasn’t he done?” Coleman said, as he and Brown shared a laugh on the Kajikawa Practice Field in downtown Tempe following a recent football practice.
Coleman and Brown bring to the Sun Devils football program a wealth of experience and leadership that doesn’t get overlooked.
Coleman was named as a team captain during each of his last three seasons at Berkeley. Brown, meanwhile, was named to the Wuerffel Trophy Preseason Watch List. Awarded to the FBS player who exhibits exemplary community service as well as leadership achievements on and off the field, the Wuerffel Trophy recognizes distinction in community service and leadership.
Coleman is still recovering from a severe leg injury that he suffered before spring ball began, but had started 22 games at Cal Berkeley showing his versatility playing left tackle and left guard.
During Brown’s true freshman season, he earned All-Pac-12 second-team recognition for his special-teams contributions at Washington State. He has 26 tackles in five games for the 2-6 Sun Devils, who take on the No. 18 Utah Utes (6-2) Saturday in Salt Lake City.
“Tre’s been an unbelievable leader for us,” ASU coach Kenny Dillingham said. “He’s just an unbelievable player. He’s really established the identity of what our defense looks like right now. And obviously Ben has been out, but you know, Ben’s a veteran, everyone enjoys his presence. He’s just been out so he hasn’t been able to establish that leadership like I know he can, but he will.”
Ward, ASU’s defensive coordinator, managed to build a strong connection with Brown while recruiting and coaching him at WSU.
“He’s given an example for the younger guys and how to lead,” Ward said. “How to make calls, and how to make adjustments, how to really command others from the practice field, and translate it to game day.”
Coleman and Brown both have a year of eligibility due to redshirt years and are in the middle of pursuing their master’s degrees in communications at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix.
The ability to have the best journalism department on the West Coast in their backyard motivated Coleman and Brown to improve their academic credentials, and set a high standard for their families’ names.
“Honestly,” Brown said, “I’m tired of school, but Ben mentored me like a big brother.”
Coleman has contributed as a source of motivation for Brown, encouraging both to achieve their full potential.
“Just pushing him. He (Tre) wanted to pursue law enforcement,” Coleman said. “(He’d talk) about being a K9 officer and I would say, ‘You know, if you get a master’s, your salary will be higher, and you’ll have a higher position.’ I think that’s more important. I know money is not everything, but it is essential for daily life.”
Football has been the cornerstone that fuels and shapes Coleman and Brown’s friendship. They’ve taken advantage of every potential opportunity that comes their way with the amount of free time they have after practice, watching films, and pursuing other endeavors that will advance their careers after football.
“You only play football for so long,” Coleman said. “We’re here playing football at Arizona State which provides for the masses, the opportunity to serve. Football has provided us more things than just the (game) itself.”
Football united the two together from a young age, and now they’ve come full circle as part of Dillingham’s first recruiting class.
“We had different paths at first and then always met right back up at the same spot,” Brown said. “I consider it a blessing.”